After last night’s incident with the beasts, the Emperor finally returned to the palace today. The palace should be in somewhat of a frenzy yet when Hua Zhu Yu returned, she saw the maidservants and guards that hurried by all unexpectedly carried a solemn expression. No one uttered a word. The palace was full of people yet it was exceedingly quiet as though a storm was brewing.
Recalling last night’s incident, Hua Zhu Yu was worried for Huangfu Wu Shuang. Suddenly she heard a voice laced with ridicule, asking, “Bao gonggong, what’s the matter? Don’t you need to teach Crown Prince Xiao the sword dance today?”
Immersed in her train of thought, Hua Zhu Yu was startled by the voice and she turned around. Standing a few steps away were two people, one in a red attire and the other in a refined blue. It was Ji Feng Li and Lan Bing.
The one that had just spoken was Lan Bing.
On the surface, Lan Bing appeared elegant and gentle. He dressed in a refined manner, completely like a scholar. But it was uncertain why whenever he saw Hua Zhu Yu, even when he spoke to her, he would appear to be holding back his laughter. This caused Hua Zhu Yu to think back to that night when Ji Feng Li was stark naked. It seemed this Lan Bing most likely knew at least 80 percent of that night’s affairs.
Gritting her teeth, Hua Zhu Yu composed herself and slowly turned around. She smiled yet her clear eyes were cold as she faced them. “Lan daren truly knows how to jest. Crown Prince Xiao is injured, how could he practice the sword dance. But even if Crown Prince Xiao wasn’t injured, after yesterday’s huge incident, this servant no longer has the heart to perform the sword dance for entertainment.”
“That’s true. But Bao gong gong truly is full of charm. After teaching Crown Prince Xiao the sword dance for merely two days, his feelings are this deep already. Last night at the critical moment, he disregarded his safety and protected you, this makes me truly touched ah!” Lan Bing indifferently said with a smile as he stroke a few strands of hair that had fallen on his cheeks.
Hua Zhu Yu’s heart suddenly skipped a beat.
Lan Bing’s remark was full of hidden implications.
Xiao Yin was the heir apparent to the throne of a kingdom. Yet during last night’s dangerous incident, he took action and protected her, despite his own safety. To others this would surely seem like there was something else going on, especially to a devious person like Ji Feng Li.
He wouldn’t think that she was originally a spy sent by the Northern Kingdom, would he?
Hua Zhu Yu’s heart was in turmoil. She look up at Ji Feng Li and saw him silently standing there with arms crossed, completely ignoring her as he calmly gazed at the flowers up front. Hearing Lan Bing’s remark, he slightly frowned and turned around. He faced Hua Zhu Yu with a gentle smile before directing his gaze at Lan Bing, “You’re getting more and more preposterous by the day.”
“Bao gong gong, there’s no need to take what he said to heart!” Ji Feng Li said with a smile as he turned to face Hua Zhu Yu.
“Naturally, I will not, I’m merely a servant, how could I dare to take daren’s words to heart!” Hua Zhu Yu replied with a smile as well, and indifferently said, “If there is nothing else, this servant shall withdraw!”
Hua Zhu Yu paid her respects and passed by them with quick steps, heading towards Qing Yuan, Huangfu Wu Shaung’s residence.
From the side, Ji Feng Li felt a breeze pass and in a flash he could no longer see Hua Zhu Yu’s figure. He continued to gaze in the direction that Hua Zhu Yu departed as his eyes gradually became obscure.
“Lord Chancellor, say, is Bao gong gong one of Crown Prince Xiao’s people or not?” Lan Bing asked in a lowered voice.
Calmly swaying the fan in his hand back and forth, he replied with a faint smile, “Would you risk your life to save someone you just met for a mere two days?”
Lan Bing shook his head. Of course he would never do that and he didn’t think any rational person would either and Crown Prince Xiao was a very rational person. There’s definitely a problem with this Bao gong gong!
This was the second time Hua Zhu Yu had witnessed Huangfu Wu Shuang’s act of tyranny.
The first time was at the lake excursion when he had seen Wen Wan together with Ji Feng Li. At that time, Huangfu Wu Shuang had lashed his anger out at his servants. And today, when Hua Zhu Yu entered Qing Yuan, she saw the servants with swollen, red faces. Some even had a distinct hand-print on their cheeks. They were truly mistreated by Huangfu Wu Shuang. Even Jixiang didn’t seem to fare any better. Though his face was not swollen his movements appeared a bit sluggish. His injury was probably not light.
At the sight of Hua Zhu Yu’s return, Jixiang’s eyes lit up as though he had seen his savior.
“Yuan Bao, quickly go inside and take a look at His Highness. Since last night, His Highness has yet to eat anything. If he continues on like this how can he pull through! His Highness favors you the most and will definitely listen to you. Quickly go inside and persuade His Highness.” Once Jixiang was done speaking, it seemed as though he could burst into tears at any moment.
Huangfu Wu Shuang favored her the most? Why was it that whenever they needed her assistance they would say this? Hua Zhu Yu really didn’t think that Huangfu Wu Shuang favored her, but no matter what she still had to go in and persuade Huangfu Wu Shuang.
Raising the curtains, Hua Zhu Yu entered the room. It was already noon yet none of the window curtains had been opened, leaving the room looking quite dreary and the air stifling. Walking up to a window, she pulled open the curtains and at once the sun shone through the window screen, entering the room and dispersing the gloominess inside.
“Scram!” a hoarse, frosty voice shouted as an object was sent flying her way. Hua Zhu Yu turned solemn as she lifted her hand to catch the flower vase.
Jixiang was most likely injured by these things, she thought. The ground was currently a mess, full of broken flower vases, tea cups and even a jade pillow. It seems Huangfu Wu Shuang broke anything he could get his hands on.
“At this critical moment, does Your Highness intend to admit defeat?” Placing the flower vase down, Hua Zhu Yu slowly approached the bed and spoke, word for word. Her voice was cold and austere, anyone who listened would surely be shaken.
This was the first time Hua Zhu Yu displayed her fierce side to Huangfu Wu Shuang.
When she was a little girl she had followed after her father and learned martial arts. Unable to tolerate the rigorous training of her father and masters day in and day out, she had secretly packed her things and tried to escape one night. At that time she truly felt that she could no longer endure it any longer. She thought it was nevertheless better to return to Yu City and just be a young miss. But not only did she fail to escape, she was even discovered. Till this day she still remembered her father’s gloomy eyes filled with disappointment in her not having met his expectations.
Her feelings towards Huangfu Wu Shuang were almost identical to her father’s at that time. It was only now that she understood how he must have felt back then.
The bed was a mess, full of torn dazzling silk of all colors. As Huangfu Wu Shuang laid there in his magnificent, refined robes, it was hard to distinguish him. Only his snow pale face was revealed, looking quite dispirited.
His eyes were originally closed but when he heard Hua Zhu Yu, his lashes trembled as his eyes instantly opened. Seeing Hua Zhu Yu, his eyes flashed with pleasant surprise as he spoke in a stifling voice, “Yuan Bao, you’re finally back. You weren’t hurt yesterday right? You worried me to death but last night Imperial Father gave orders to not allow me out. If not, this prince would have soon come find you!” Done talking, he lowered his gaze as tears streamed from those beautiful dark eyes. “Say, what should I do? Imperial Father suspects I’m the one behind the beast attack that harmed him. How could I ever harm Imperial Father? How could I have the ability to get a hold of those beasts?”
“If it wasn’t you, you must go tell His Majesty. Would His Majesty believe in your innocence if you just continue to lay there?” Hua Zhu Yu coldly asked.
“Last night, this prince went to visit Imperial Father but Imperial Father doesn’t want to see me, nor does he want to listen to what I have to say. What should I do now?” Huangfu Wu Shuang spoke dejectedly but he still complied with Hua Zhu Yu and slowly sat up.
Going over to the cabinet, Hua Zhu Yu looked inside and took out a black satin robe and threw it on the bed. “Change into this!” The Emperor was severely ill right now yet Huangfu Wu Shuang dared to wear such vibrant clothes. Luckily the Emperor did not see him, if not, he surely would’ve been angered to death. Huangfu Wu Shuang did not dare to say anything further and quickly went to get changed.
“Your Highness, do you know how those two beasts were handled?” Hua Zhu Yu asked in a serious tone.
“Those beasts?” Thinking for a while he then replied, “Imperial Father gave orders to Ji Feng Li to handle last night’s matters. I heard he instructed people to carry the two beasts’ bodies back here.”
“Then does Your Highness know where the bodies are?” Hua Zhu Yu asked in alarm. If this matter was given to Ji Feng Li to handle, she was not certain if she would have a winning chance.
“They ought to be in the horse stable near the palace. Yuan Bao, did you discover something?” Huangfu Wu Shuang asked with wide eyes.
“Last night, when this servant stabbed the beast’s chin with an arrow, this servant felt there was something already embedded there.This can prove that someone else had made a move before this servant to save Kang Wang. His Majesty is suspicious of Your Highness because he does not think Kang Wang would dare risk his life to frame you. But if it’s true that someone else stopped the beast, it can prove there was someone protecting Kang Wang and he was not placing his life in danger. If that’s the case, he would also be a suspect in last night’s incident,” Hua Zhu Yu slowly explained.
“If we have proof that someone was protecting him last night we can prove that he was the one behind the incident?” Huangfu Wu Shuang doubtfully asked.
“We cannot prove he was the one behind the beast incident with just evidence that someone was protecting him. But if that person doesn’t dare to reveal himself and he’s such a skilled martial artist as well, would or wouldn’t His Majesty be suspicious?”
The beast’s chin was its most vulnerable spot but it was not so easily accessible. She was only able to stab it with the arrow because of her close proximity to the beast at the time. Yet that hidden person was able to kill the beast with his concealed weapon at that critical moment so covertly that even she didn’t notice. One can just imagine how high that person’s marital arts was. But if that person was such a skilled martial artist, why did he not step forward to stop the beast from the beginning? This showed that there must be a hidden plot in the making.
“For this urgent matter, we should go take a look at the beasts and see if there are any concealed weapons embedded in their chins,” Hua Zhu Yu hastily said. In all honesty, she was sure that the involved party had already removed the evidence, however what she wanted was to examine the wound it left behind.
Arriving at the horse stable, Hua Zhu Yu and Huangfu Wu Shuang discovered it was surrounded by the Imperial Army and the commanding officer there was An Xiao Er. If it wasn’t for An Xiao Er, Hua Zhu Yu feared they wouldn’t have been able to enter the place even half a step.
But amidst the watchful gazes of everyone present, An Xiao Er did not dare to show favor to Hua Zhu Yu. He could only show her the beast’s wound through the window. Seeing the wound, Hua Zhu Yu was shocked to discover that besides the wound that she had caused there was another one caused by a dagger.
It seems during the chaos the concealed weapon had been removed by the other party and the wound was intentionally tampered with. The other party most likely dispatched an Imperial Guard they bribed to erase all traces by stabbing over the wound with a dagger.
The person behind all of this handled everything thoroughly, not leaving room for even a drop of water to leak.
The best way to destroy the evidence was to completely get rid of the beast’s corpse so that the opponent wouldn’t be able to find anything. Though the Emperor was suspicious of Huangfu Wu Shuang, he didn’t have any concrete evidence. But if they wanted to get rid of the beast’s corpse, they could only wait until nightfall. Still, Hua Zhu Yu was nervous whether the enemy would produce any more evidence from now till nightfall.
Often times when one wished for the skies to darken, the skies would be very obstinate. It seemed as though the sun was clinging to its spot, not budging an inch.
When the sun had finally set and the other party had yet to make any movements, Hua Zhu Yu could finally put her mind at ease.
But all of a sudden, Hui Xue came to Qing Yuan to find her.
“What’s happened?” Hui Xue’s face which usually carried a calm expression was now somewhat anxious which made Hua Zhu Yu restless once again. It couldn’t be that Xiao Yin’s wounds had taken a turn for the worse after she hadn’t gone to see him for just one day?
Hui Xue quietly replied, “Princess, His Highness has just received news that His Majesty’s health these days isn’t great so His Highness must return at once. His Highness is leaving tonight!”
Hearing this news, Hua Zhu Yu’s face turned solemn. When she had seen the Northern Emperor at the previous festival he still appeared healthy. If it was only a minor illness, he certainly would not send such news over thousands of miles like this. She would feel guilty if something were to happen to the Northern Emperor and Xiao Yin missed his chance to bid him farewell in person.
“Where is he?” Hua Zhu Yu asked. No matter what she still had to send him off.
“His Highness went to bid farewell to the Southern Emperor. Fearing the Emperor would have a farewell banquet, our horse carriage is already waiting at the palace entrance gate. Princess come with me to the entrance gate to wait!”
“You go on ahead first. I will wait for you all at the mountain road.” Ji Feng Li had already begun to suspect her, she couldn’t allow herself to be seen with Hui Xue
Hui Xue nodded and quickly left.
The setting sun was a blazing blood red, fused with a golden tint. The western horizon was full of brilliant clouds like layers of rouge, bright and dazzling as a burning fire. The mountain breeze brought a slight chill as it carried the scent of wild flowers growing along side the road with it.
Liu Feng, Hui Xue, Qing Yun, Bi Yue, and Xiao Yin’s other accompanying guards rode horses as they slowly escorted a horse carriage. Since Xiao Yin was recently injured, he was not able to travel on horseback.
With the Emperor’s illness, Xiao Yin was by no means sent off with great fanfare. The Emperor merely instructed two officials to send him off, one of them being Imperial Tutor Wen.
After exchanging a few pleasantries with Xiao Yin, the other official quickly took his leave but Imperial Tutor Wen continued to remain. Hua Zhu Yu, who was hidden in the trees, didn’t know what they were talking about but she began to feel annoyed having to wait for so long.
A long while later, perhaps due to Xiao Yin’s impatience, he gave orders for his guards to set off. Even after Xiao Yin’s entourage had long since left, Imperial Tutor Wen continued to silently stand there, staring off in the direction of the departing carriage.
Hua Zhu Yu felt that something was off but she waited till the carriage passed by her location before she silently jumped onto the carriage and pulled up the curtains to enter.
The skies had turned dark and the luminous night pearls fixed at the top four corners of the carriage began to light up.
Reclining against the seat, Xiao Yin’s complexion was still pale and his hair was bit messy. From a glance he appeared extremely tired and desolate. Only those pair of purple eyes were deep and clear like fine grape wine in a crystal cup, as he gazed at Hua Zhu Yu with a hint of reluctance. It seemed he had been waiting for her.
But Xiao Yin was not the only person inside the carriage, beside him there was another girl. Her back was facing Xiao Yin as she fixed her gaze at the corner of the carriage in tears. Her waist long hair draped over her light blue robes while a jade hairpin was fixed at the top of her head.
Her mere back view was enchanting and beautiful.
Hearing the noise she quickly turned around to take a look. Her charming face was revealed with two streams of tears, like raindrops on a pear blossom 1, attracting others pity.
Seeing the familiar face Hua Zhu Yu was suddenly confused.
This girl was none other than Wen Wan.
Why was Wen Wan sitting in Xiao Yin’s carriage, in the end what was going on?
Recalling that night when the Emperor had a reception banquet for Xiao Yin, Hua Zhu Yu remembered that Xiao Yin had specially wanted to listen to Wen Wan play the fuqin. Originally, he had been moved by the mere portrait of her, perhaps having seen her in real life he was moved once more.
At the banquet, the Emperor also said that if he took fancy to anyone, the Emperor would let that person marry off. So when Xiao Yin went to bid farewell to the Emperor he must have asked for Wen Wan. But Wen Wan was already a xiu nu2 so the Emperor could only silently send her off to the Northern Kingdom. No wonder Imperial Tutor Wen was so reluctant to part!
Last night, Xiao Yin risked his life to protect her which moved her deeply. But he was merely protecting his younger sister, if she did not have the identity of Zhou Ya, perhaps he would not have done so in the first place.
Thinking to here, Hua Zhu Yu’s heart slowly sank, but she still had on a faint smile as she said, “Hearing that Crown Prince Xiao was returning to the Northern Kingdom, our Crown Prince has specially entrusted this servant to deliver a message. The Crown Prince hopes Crown Prince Xiao has a pleasant journey and arrive at Northern Kingdom soon.”
- idiom for tear-stained face of a beauty
- xiu nu translates to refined lady and I think it just refers to females that have been drafted into the palace/harem